Are garbage disposals illegal in NYC apartments? How do you get caught and what’s the penalty? And where can they be most easily installed?
Garbage disposals have been legal in New York for almost 25 years, but many if not most New York City apartment buildings—particularly prewars—still don’t allow them.
That’s because the older pipes that serve many of the city’s buildings tend to have so much sludge and scaling in their waste lines that the additional ground-up waste produced by a garbage disposal can result in clogs, back-ups, overflows, and property damage, says Michael Wolfe, president of FirstService Residential, a property management company.
Still tempted to take the risk? Consider what happened in the building where Manhattan architect William W. Suk lives. Halfway up the building, there is a horizontal pipe that connected two vertical pipes.
In that horizontal pipe, “the food waste built up over time and eventually the 50-year-old pipe gave way and burst into the apartment below,” he says. “Not a pretty scene.”
From then on, garbage disposals were only permitted in apartments below the 18th floor, where the horizontal pipe lurked.
Where can you safely install a garbage disposal?
Even if you are renovating your condo or co-op and installing new pipes—you can expect to run into problems if you're in an older building. That's because even if the pipes are new, the infrastructure is not—it can be 100-plus years old, says Anna Karp, CEO and co-founder of Bolster, a New York City-based design-build firm (and Brick sponsor, FYI).
"If you're considering a garbage disposal in a co-op or condo, we do recommend speaking to your board or architect to see if it is viable from the get-go,” she says. In addition, if there are young children—with small, curious hands—safety is a consideration.
On the other hand, there are some types of NYC housing where you can more easily install garbage disposals.
“Brownstone and townhouse owners have more flexibility and having a garbage disposal there becomes more of a personal choice if they are doing a full-gut renovation,” Karp says.
You will need a plumber, but it is a relatively easy installation, Karp says, and involves fees for half a day’s work. Popular brands are the InSinkErator, Moen, and Waste King. “We recommend InSinkErator and this is the model we have used in the past,” Karp says.
What happens if you get caught with a garbage disposal?
Where building rules prohibit garbage disposals, some residents choose to install them on the sly, with the hopes that building management turns a blind eye or doesn’t notice. Most disposal smugglers get caught when something goes wrong outside the apartment.
“Usually the sink waste line is tied with another such, as another kitchen on the other side of a wall, or a bathroom in an adjacent apartment,” says Joseph Shkreli, a project operations manager. “If the installation is illegal, the adjacent apartment could be getting backups in their sink, tub, or even in some cases their toilet,” he says.
The end result? You could be financially responsible for fixing any damage and may also be subject to penalties by co-op or condo boards.
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